Only Something Original : Everyday Communalism in Uttar Pradesh

Of Majoritarian Mobilisations since the 2000s in Uttar Pradesh


Book Review

Sudha Pai & Sajjan Kumar, Everyday Communalism: Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh 
Oxford University Press, Delhi, Page: 364, Price: INR 995/- (hardcover)

 Based largely on secondary works, this work is a welcome addition to the existing literature on religious strife in India. Benefitting from interviews, discussions and field-works the book under review is a breakthrough in the field of studies on Hindu-Muslim strife. It explores the Hindu-Muslim violence in Uttar Pradesh (UP) since the 2000s, which has characteristics clearly different from the earlier decades. The book gifts us with an apt phraseology, “everyday communalism”.  

The authors  offer a ‘new model’, that of ‘institutionalised everyday communalism’.   Their moot point being that instead of instigating major communal violence and episodic riots which invite public and media scrutiny and legal battles, the BJP and RSS have devised a new method of creating and sustaining the constant, low-key, frequent communal tensions to keep the pot boiling. A significant feature of this new phase of communalism, they argue, is the shifting location of riots from vulnerable areas to otherwise peaceful areas and even more distinctly from urban locales to the rural ones.

The book illustrates that ‘Subalternisation’ of Hindutva (inclusion of Backward and Dalit castes), clubbed with the much-hyped, idea of development on Gujarat model were the main factors behind the electoral success of BJP in 2014.  

Chapter I describes the historiography of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh from post-independence time to the 1990s depicting Nehruvian era as the period of relative peace and communal harmony. The Chapters II and III, which constitute the Part I, are entirely devoted to the communalism and communal violence in eastern Uttar Pradesh, while Chapters IV and V, which comprise Part II, explore the same in western Uttar Pradesh.

The authors argue that the nature and form of communalism in eastern Uttar Pradesh is markedly different from that of western Uttar Pradesh because of the variance in demography, history and political economy of the two regions within the large province.
There is no denying the fact that Part I of the book holds the cornerstone of it. To a student, working on eastern Uttar Pradesh, it offers something almost original while highlighting the rise of Yogi Adityanath (Ajay Singh Bisht) and the re-appearance of communal tension and violence in eastern districts. They illustrate it particularly with the Mau (2005) and Gorakhpur (January 2007) violence.

It also explains how the weakening of the identity politics and failure of the Congress in reviving its organisational base led to the strengthening of the BJP which provided a perfect opportunity for the BJP to put to test its ‘New-Experimentation’. The book brilliantly addresses the conflict within the high castes leading to the formation of the ‘non-Brahman Hinduism’ of Yogi Adityanath, a Rajput (Thakur) and his Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), which according to the authors, is significantly different from the one advocated by the BJP and RSS, which has a dominance of Brahmans.

 The communal violence in eastern part is an urban phenomenon whereas in the western Uttar Pradesh these are also rural phenomenon have spread into the hinterland.

However, the authors have left the question  of the rise of Pasmanda politics and its contribution to communalization in Uttar Pradesh, unanswered . Whatever little description they give about the Pasmanda politics is more to do with Bihar than with Uttar Pradesh. Moreover, this treatment does not examine the correlation of this factor as a factor for majoritarian assertion against Muslims.

Hilal Ahmed’s essay, (“Muzaffarnagar 2013: Meanings of Violence”, EPW, October 5, 2013), pertinently reported how, the violence in the Muzaffarnagar-Shamli districts of western Uttar Pradesh began weeks after the ‘Pasmanda Kranti Abhiyan’ began its mass contact programme in those parts of Uttar Pradesh in 2013. Far from developing upon it, the authors have simply missed this report/aspect. Moreover, the authors have very inadequately dealt with the roles of the ruling SP (2002-07; 2012-2017) and BSP (2007-2012) in letting off Adityanath for his notoriously incendiary role in 2007 Gorakhpur violence . The authors could have benefitted from Apoorvanand (“Riot, Manufactured in Gorakhpur”, Tehelka, February 17, 2007), Shahnawaz Alam, (“How SP and BSP Helped Adityanath Get Away With His Hate Speeches, The Wire, March 29, 2017) and Ajit Sahi’s two reports (The Wire, February 22, July 2017 and February 22, 2018) , writings that argue that onus lies on those parties  and on the criminal justice  system in letting off Adityanath. Shahnawaz Alam goes on to say that the emergence of the ‘firebrand’ leader owes more to the criminal silence of the political mechanisms that failed to curb hate-mongers and their divisive speeches, rather than the persons making use of such language .

Part II of the book, on western Uttar Pradesh,  argues that the planned and sustained everyday communal mobilisation coupled with the agrarian decline (which began from the Green Revolution period), resulted into a deterioration of the Jat-Muslim relationship. A unique, yet worrying feature of communalism in western Uttar Pradesh is the shift of the battleground of communal politics into rural locales, from riot-prone areas to the relatively peaceful areas. This may be possible because of the jealousy on part of majoritarian community due to the improving status and prosperity of certain Muslim communities coupled with the rising aspirations of Muslims to share the structures of power and their virtual upsurge in rural and Urban Local Bodies which the authors have completely ignored looking at. This is something which was brought out by A K Varma (“Muslim Resurgence in Urban Local Bodies of Uttar Pradesh”, EPW, October 6, 2012). The authors have completely missed out on this significant factor in making the BJP’s task of playing up anti-Muslim hatred, jealousy easier, and weaving this into a Hindu consolidation.
The book also glosses over the fact of Muslim affluence gained through remittance from West Asian Gulf countries. This affluence resulted into creation of some middle class among Muslims who obtained education and also invested their capital in local trading and village markets. This eventually created jealousies and rivalries besides trading competitions. Display, at times vulgar ones, of wealth, mostly by these neo-rich classes of certain Muslim communities, reflected more in the grand domes (gunmbads) and spire towers (minars) of mosques, further resulting in heartburns and jealousies.

Many of these factors could possibly be identified in the case of the violence at the Pedda village in Bijnor in September 2016. These points have been made by Mohammad Sajjad (this author), in his various columns/essays pertaining to the communal violence and communal politics in Bihar, as also in Uttar Pradesh, in recent years. (For a detailed examination of the Bijnor violence, see, his essay in the Indian Journal of Secularism, Mumbai, July-September 2017, pp. 05-26).

To a student working on western Uttar Pradesh, this section, honestly speaking, does not offer anything substantially new. In fact, it is ‘disappointing’ as stated by Jagpal Singh in his  review of the book in (The Book Review, June 2018).   

On Muzaffarnagar riots (2013), to my understanding,  Jagpal Singh’s  “Communal Violence in Muzaffarnagar Agrarian Transformation and Politics” (EPW, 31 July, 2016) raises some key questions and also answers them in far more comprehensive way than the book under review does.

This work also ignores the question of why and how, the formation of religious-based communities is taking place relegating the caste differences to the background as has been pointed out by Jagpal Singh in his review of the book. This is probably because the authors seem to be obsessed more with the social context to the extent that they deliberately ignore the political context of riot underlined long ago by Paul R. Brass.

Further, this work while calling the Muzaffarnagar violence as an orchestrated one  and something carried out by the ruling SP (to woo Muslims)  in tacit or explicit connivance with the BJP, the authors do not substantiate or corroborate their respondents’ statements with other tangible evidence. They say,

“…the SP too wanted communal polarisation and low-intensity incidents before the May 2014 elections with the aim of polarizing Muslims and then emerging as their saviour. The SP also hoped to marginalize rivals like the BSP through this strategy, who were attempting to gain the Muslim vote. The SP strategy it was alleged was that such incidents should be administratively controlled and calibrated, but the orchestrated riots went out of proportion”. (P. 258).

“…the BJP and the SP were working in tandem with each other”. (P. 259). This aspect needs more of academic scrutiny and substantiation.

The authors could have benefitted from Mohammad Sajjad  (“This is Akhilesh Yadav’s way of running UP”,, August 5, 2013). This column had forewarned us  that besides Narendra Modi and the Sangh Parivar there are many others who are out to communalise the national atmosphere of India. He further argues that in order to protect the sand-mafia, the Akhilesh government suspended Durga Shakti Nagpal, the SDM, Greater Noida who had stopped illegal construction of a mosque at Kadalpur in Greater Noida, thereby creating communal disharmony.
The omissions and commissions of Azam Khan, the then Minister Incharge of Muzaffarnagar Affairs, too remain largely unexposed in this book.   (see Mohammad Sajjad,“Don’t the Massacres Prick Your Conscience, Azambhai?”,, September 16, 2013).
Even if the Muzaffarnagar violence was an orchestrated one and a tacit understanding had developed between the two sets of leaders, the authors ignore the factional squabbles within the ruling SP.  It was Shivpal Yadav, Dharmendra Yadav, and Balram Yadav, not Akhilesh Yadav himself, as the authors themselves point out, who were the parts of the said meeting with the VHP/BJP. The authors have left this point unexplained and have chosen to take the respondents’ versions as indisputable fact. However, there is another fact to be kept in mind that ever since Akhilesh Yadav became the Chief Minister of UP in 2012, there were reports increasing instances of Yadav hooliganism as well as communal clashes across UP.  This aspect remains underworked in the book under review.

Pai and Kumar state:

“…there was a meeting in Delhi, somewhere in the Lodhi area, between Amit Shah and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s brothers Shivpal Yadav, Dharmendra Yadav and Balram Yadav on June 1,  2013, regarding the 84 Kos Yatra planned by the VHP as well as one with Ashok Singhal. It is believed that some kind of understanding took place between them”. (P. 260)

“…there was an implicit understanding between the two parties (SP & BJP) and they worked in tandem with each other between 2011 and 2013” (p. 270)

However, the discussion on the Muslims who were displaced, though commendable is not pioneering, as has also been argued byJagpal Singh’s review. The authors could have benefitted from Ghazala Jamil ( (Internally Displaced Muslims of Western Uttar Pradesh, EPW, December 20, 2014) which argues that as far as provision of relief was concerned, some areas got serviced more than the others whereas the better off amongst the victims managed to leave the relief camps. She further records that the Akhilesh government took coercive undertaking from many victims, insisting that in exchange (or return for) being given compensations they will not pursue the path ofcriminal justice.   Even the return of Muslims to their villages was subjected to some conditions: those who have not registered police cases and wished to return to their villages were shunned by the village. This has torn apart the social fabric of the village communities,  preventing the Muslims from returning to their villages and homes. She further questions the very nature of compensation criterion of compensating only those villages/families where people have died in communal attacks. What she instead expects from state is to devise measures to recognise the threat of violence and compensate all the internally displaced.

Besides these shortcomings, the book also suffers from multiple content repetitions, factual errors, proof-errors and carelessness which generally are the domain responsibility of the peer- reviewers and copy-editors. Institutionalization of Everyday communalism, the Gujarat model of development and Subalternization of Hindutva are the repetitive contents of the book. No doubt, the authors do offer a ‘new model’ but the over- repetition of the contents, which at times become sickening, have camouflaged the otherwise valuable contribution of the book. Some appalling factual errors have been made viz. “Jiyaudeen Barni’s historical book gives a short description of Mughal emperor Akbar passing through Mau on his way to Allahabad…..”

The fact is that, Ziauddin Barani (1285–1357) was a 13th -14th century historian who died in 1357. How could his account provide any description on Emperor Akbar who reigned from (1556-1605)?. Moreover, the authors have not cited any source.  

Besides these, there are some other spelling (read proof- errors), for example Ziauddin’s name has been mistakenly written as Jiyauddin (p. 135), Isha ke Namaz as Pesha ke Namaz (p. 143), Kanval as Kanwal (p. 232-233) and sometimes as Kawwal (p. 236). This inconsistency and carelessness, both on the part of authors as well as reviewers/copy-editors, is visible elsewhere too. Two consecutive sentences repeating the same thing both in content and as well as in the meaning, is the other problem of the book (See the second paragraph,  P. 120). 
The same person has been written of as being the DM of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli   at the same time which creates confusions. This otherwise valuable piece of work needs a thorough revision and editing. This is highly recommended for those who are interested in the subject of communal mobilizations and strife which has become a great bane of India in recent years.

(The author is a PhD Candidate at the Centre of Advanced Study in History Aligarh Muslim University)



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